Where Courage Comes From
by Jacob Hudgins
“But Peter and the other apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men’”(Acts 5:29).
Peter and the apostles have been dragged (again) before the Jewish council for preaching about Jesus. Now they loudly declare that they will not obey them. It is a seismic shift from a few weeks earlier, when Peter and the others fled at Jesus’ crucifixion. What has changed here? Where does courage like this come from?
They have been with Jesus. When Peter and John were earlier arrested, the council took note of this courage. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus”(Acts 4:13). Courage stems from being with Jesus. The presence of Jesus has given them boldness that belies their state as uneducated and common. Jesus not only has the power to help, but his presence gives them confidence that there is a plan to the chaos of life.
They have been commissioned as witnesses. “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him”(Acts 5:32). Jesus has given them the job of witnessing to his resurrection. He has warned them of the persecution they will face in this task (John 16:1-4) and now they are prepared for it. Though we are not witnesses in the same way they were, we are intended to be a light to the world (Matt 5:13-16), proclaiming the goodness of God (1 Pet 2:9-10), and offering our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1-2). Knowing our job gives us boldness.
They prayed for it. After the initial threats of the council, the disciples gather and pray, “grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness”(Acts 4:29). In response, the meeting place is shaken and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness”(Acts 4:31). Knowing the frightening climate, they ask for boldness from God and receive it. Do we pray for such courage?
They have been empowered by the Holy Spirit. After the prayer, they are “filled with the Holy Spirit”(Acts 4:31). Peter mentions the Spirit specifically as a witness of the resurrection and that he is given to those who obey God (Acts 5:32). There is a clear difference between the apostles’ role and ours, yet it remains true that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”(2 Tim 1:7). Courage comes from knowing that God is with us. New Testament believers usually describe that presence as the presence of the Spirit.
They have been convicted themselves. There is no doubt in Peter here. “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him”(Acts 5:30-32). He has had his doubts and failures, but Peter now knows this is true. Conviction gives us courage to stand up for what we believe, even in the face of hostility. No longer is it just our parents’ faith or simply what others say about God. When we believe it, we grow bold.
May God bless us with courage like this!